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Centuries before Prague became the capital city of the relatively new nation of the Czech Republic, this 'Golden City' acted as the capital of one of Europe's most historic areas, Bohemia. Ever since the end of the Cold War two decades ago, growing numbers of tourists have discovered the long-hidden charms of the 'City of 100 Spires'. Unlike many other major European cities, Prague's historic and beautiful buildings were left largely intact during WWII. Like most other European capitals, Prague is best explored by foot or public transit. Car rental, however, is a far more practical way to explore the countless historic castles and charming villages outside the city limits.
Who to Book With
Prague Václav Havel Airport, the Czech Republic's largest, contains no fewer than nine places to get car hire. Companies include an Italian firm called Locauto, as well as two Czech chains Dvorak and Cs-Czechocar. Of course, most of the usual international franchises, such as Budget and Avis, are also readily available both inside the airport and at many other locations throughout Prague. The greatest bargains can usually be found via online booking.
Best time to go
Prague is famous for its extreme temperatures, from its hot summers, when most tourists visit, to its freezing cold winters. Accommodation and vehicles cost much more in summer, when most locals leave Prague for their own holidays. Early autumn and late spring may be the best times to interact with locals, pay cheaper prices and still enjoy mild weather. The cold spell often lasts from October to March, but these are also the Czech Republic's prime skiing months.
Need to Know Essentials
These are the necessary documents to secure vehicles here:
- An International Driving Permit or driving license
- A passport or other picture identification confirming that the driver is at least 18 years old
- A valid credit card, preferably the same one used to make the initial reservation.
Some of the motorways leading into Prague have not been significantly upgraded since the Communist era. These include the D1, the oldest and busiest motorway in the whole country. The D1 links Prague with Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest. It takes about 90 minutes to drive the 99 miles along the E50 between Prague and the German border. The E67 is a newly completed motorway running between Prague and Poland, while the E65 is the main route to the Czech Republic's finest ski resorts.
Motorists should leave their vehicles at any of the park-and-ride facilities near Prague motorways instead of attempting to brave the city's heavy traffic and complex one-way street network. Parking is restricted in areas marked by blue lines, and extremely limited around the historic city centre. Motorised traffic is completely banned in Wenceslas Square and several other central Prague areas.
Many of Prague’s historic districts are completely closed to motorised traffic, including city buses. Prague's metro and electric trams are the only public transportation options permitted to enter these historic areas, many of which are also easy to reach on foot. However, pedestrians should pay special attention at crosswalks and be aware that illegal crossing can be met with face heavy fines. Passenger ferry or steamboat cruises along the Vltava River are also easily available.
PID operates all of Prague's public transit options, except for taxis. Tickets are transferable between most transportation formats and cost between £0.80 for tickets valid for 30 minutes and £10.35 for tickets valid for 72 hours. Children under 15 get discounts of 50 per cent, while children under six travel for free. Tickets are sold at Czech Railways ticket offices, Prague Public Transit offices, ticket machines, convenience and tobacco shops and directly from drivers.
Zurich’s S-Bahn trains are ideal for moving out of the city centre and into the suburban districts and outlying villages in the canton. Every line stops at the central Hauptbahnhof station, right in the heart of Zurich, except for rural lines. The ZVV has useful tour maps for special excursions on the S-Bahn trains. Prague Nadrazi, the main intercity rail station, stands near the National Museum on Wilsonova Street. The Praha Holesovice is a smaller rail station, but nonetheless supplies several train connections between Prague and the rest of the Czech rail network.
Prague taxi companies are notorious for scams and overly-expensive fares. Drivers have been known to rig meters or ignore the maximum £0.94 fare per kilometre limit set by the city council. Negotiating fares in advance and sticking to reliable companies like AAA Radio Taxi are the best ways to avoid getting scammed.
Buses and trams
Prague buses and trams use the same tickets as the city's metro system, but tickets must be purchased prior to boarding. Trams and buses operate longer hours than the metro, and lines link directly to the metro system. Fares for the Cedaz buses which travel between Prague Václav Havel Airport and the city centre, cost around £4.34 each, but Czech Express operates a cheaper Airport Express bus, with tickets for around £2 each.
Driving around many parts of central Prague may be difficult, if not downright impossible, but travel by rented vehicle becomes much easier once motorists leave the 'Golden City' limits and head for its surrounding countryside, filled with Bohemian fortresses and historic castles. The Empire crown jewels were once housed inside Karlstein Castle, while Konopiste Castle is best known as Archduke Franz Ferdinand's former home. Beer lovers will want to make the 58-mile trip to Pilsen, home to the Pilsener brewery headquarters.
Karlstein Castle - Bohemian King Charles IV first founded Karlstein Castle, less than 19 miles southwest of Prague, in 1348. This castle, towering high above its namesake village and the Berounka River, contains the Church of Our Lady in its central tower. Medieval paintings, statues and religious artefacts are displayed in St George's Convent as well as throughout the rest of this legendary castle.
Konopiste Castle - The last place Archduke Franz Ferdinand lived before his 1914 assassination, which triggered WWI, was the 13th century Konopiste Castle. The bullet that claimed the archduke's life in Sarajevo is now just one of the historic exhibits within this three-storey castle's museum. Many of the archduke's own hunting trophies are also displayed alongside Europe's third-largest medieval weapons collection. Greenhouses and Italian Renaissance statues fill the garden surrounding this castle, set 30 miles southeast of Prague.
Pilsen - The famous Pilsener brewery may be the first stop for most beer lovers who drive the 58 miles from Prague to Pilsen, but the Czech Republic's fourth-largest city also contains the country's highest tower atop the 13th century St Bartholomew's Cathedral and Europe's second largest synagogue. An intricate three-level underground tunnel and cellar network links the Brewery Museum to Pilsen's Old Town.